The first aircraft from Flying Circus Vol 2 has arrived and it brings with it hope, expectations, new sim technology and a few concerns and debates left over from the Rise of Flight days. That’s a lot to cram into a review but I’m going to try! Let’s have a look at the Nieuport 28!
A bit of history
Designed using the same methodology as previous Nieuport designs, the N.28 followed in the footsteps of the successful N.17 with the intent of designing a new lightweight and highly maneuverable fighter to counter the latest German fighters being introduced on the frontline in late 1917.
Arriving late to production, French units were already in the process of being equipped with the SPAD XIII and the N.28 was seen as surplus and not needed. The fighter had to find a second life somewhere else and it did.
With the late entry of the United Sates into World War I, the newly embarked American Expeditionary Force had no fighters available to its new pursuit squadrons and turned to the French for a suitable aircraft. A match was made and the N.28 very quickly became the primary type for the American fighter squadrons.
Unfortunately, the N.28 had some bugs and the first few American squadrons had to confront not only the enemy but also their new fighters. The Nieuport had several flaws and they resulted in issues such as fires because of issues with the fuel pipes as well as concerns over the type’s structural strength. Many of these issues were sorted out as the type matured into its role but lingering issues with structural strength and wing separation remained through to the end of the type’s service.
Flying the N.28
The Nieuport N.28 and SPAD XIII are frequently compared because of a shared national heritage and because some American squadrons ended up flying both types. I’m going to admit that although the SPAD XIII is probably the best Allied fighter that we have in Flying Circus, I don’t enjoy flying it all that much (the SE5a is probably still my favourite). I wasn’t sure if I’d take to the N.28 or not but I started to like it almost immediately after getting into the cockpit.
The first thing I noticed is that the overall visibility of this aircraft is excellent. There’s good forward visibility and out both sides as well. There is a bit of a challenge seeing through the wind screen, especially when adding one of the two available gunsights. The basic ring and bead gunsight offers the clearest sight picture.
The N.28 is also interesting because the engine is controlled in a series of stages rather than an analogue throttle control as you you’re undoubtedly more familiar with. When you advance the “throttle”, it clicks through to stage 1, 2, 3 and 4 with a unique sound signature at each stage.
It makes it a challenge to maintain formation without the small adjustments that you can normally make but it is interesting to manage.
I did encounter a nasty spin stall that I was unable to break out of just the one time. I haven’t replicated that since and it doesn’t happen all the time but it is something to very much be aware of. Like most aircraft of the era, handling capabilities can be quirky and this one is no exception when you reach the edge of the envelope.
On the whole, flying this aircraft is still fairly straightforward and its not too much of a handful most of the time. Just don’t ask it to do prolonged turn fights.
In combat, the N.28 is an underdog in most respects. It has a good climb rate, a good roll rate, and generally feels pretty good at the start of the fight but it gets sluggish and loses energy in a prolonged turn very quickly.
I watched a couple of times over while a Fokker Dr.I and D.VII went from defending from my attack to putting me on the defensive. I learned quickly that turn fights are a bad thing for the N.28 to engage in and should be avoided. However, I flew it together with friends and it makes a great team fighter with its good roll rate allowing a pair or trio to engage and disengage quickly and capably.
The aircraft is also quirky in that the twin Lewis guns are mounted on the left side of the aircraft asymmetrically. Long distance shooting isn’t overly affectded by the arrangement but when you get to point blank range as is often the case in WWI, I found myself needing to adjust my aim slightly to offeset the unusual positioning.
The N.28, despite its historical reputation, also dives well and holds together during some of the steeper dives than some of the other aircraft that I typically fly (such as the SE5a). I’ve used the superior dive capabilities to get away from the much more agile Fokker Dr.I, however, doing the same with the Fokker D.VII doesn’t seem to be a good idea.
N.28 is visually impressive, similar to past work from Ugra Media & 1CGS. It has the now usual array of 4K textures inside and out with plenty of 3D detailing. All of the little details that are on display here are nice to see despite the Nieuport 28 being a relatively simple and straightforward aircraft in design.
The aircraft also comes with an ample supply of custom skins too which is nice to see although thanks to the new tactical codes system, I actually used them less than I have in the past. This is the first Flying Circus aircraft to make use of the new tactical codes system coming into use in IL-2: Great Battles. The tactical codes lets you put numbers on the side of your Nieuport with a variety of font types and colours. There are limits to the combinations but it serves the purpose of marking the aircraft, and, together with the optional scarf and ribbon options lets you customize your aircraft well enough to be easily distinguished from fellow wingmates. I love it!
The N.28 is also among the first to get the dynamic visual damage system. This means that a bullet strike to a spot on the aircraft will be represented visually to the point where you can precisely place holes in the wing of your N.28 with your own service pistol if you wanted to and watch that get displayed accurately. It’s impressive technology and I can’t wait to see it roll out to other aircraft.
The system doesn’t always appear and so at times you may just see the “generic” damage details which are still very good.
The N.28 debate
Flying Circus aircraft are, for the most part, coming to the series with the flight models from Rise of Flight. Those flight models are still good in 2021 and Rise of Flight was, in many ways ahead of its time, introducing flight physics and technology that was years ahead of other simulations. However, there are some longstanding controversies and debate over the performance of the N.28 and they have been imported into the new sim as well.
Some anecdotal real world pilot reports suggest that the type was a good turn fighter that suffered from structural strength issues in a dive. There were also reports that it rolled poorly and suffered from vibration issues on lower power settings. On other hand, some US squadrons fought to keep their Nieuports when word came down that they were being upgraded to the latest SPAD fighter.
The N.28 in both Rise of Flight and Flying Circus is less able in the turn but is an excellent fighter in a dive. It’s incongruent with the my reading about the reputation of the type which is confusing at first. I will, however, suggest that pilot reports are not often a good source for flight model data and that itself is difficult to get data on aircraft of that era.
The N.28 is not the only Flying Circus type to inherit an old debate and I suspect the discussion will go on for some time.
I really like the Nieuport N.28. Maybe it’s because of its underdog status, or maybe its has good visibility, or maybe the reason is just because it’s fun to fly, but I really do enjoy flying it.
To be clear, from a performance standpoint the N.28 does seem to be a challenge to do well in. In a one versus one fight with other fighters, the N.28 has few options and is definitely on the back foot when facing something as superior as the Fokker D.VII. Against other types like the Pfalz D.IIIa, Albatross D.Va, and Fokker Dr.I, you have a few more options but most of those are still going to be better in most ways.
From the excellent 3D modeling to the quirky configuration of its machine guns and engine management, there’s a lot to like or at least admire about the modeling of this bi-plane fighter. The N.28 is also ushering several firsts including the first Flying Circus Vol 2, first dynamic vehicle damage World War I aircraft, and first WWI aircraft with tactical codes. That’s encouraging and speaks well for what is to come.
Although old debates about the flight modeling of this aircraft persist from the Rise of Flight days, I’m still impressed with the aircraft on the whole showing off that aircraft in the Flying Circus Vol 2 are pushing ahead with excellent results.
I’ll definitely be flying this aircraft more in the future.